The first of January 2015 marks the date in which the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) came into existence. The EEU is a result of a progressive process of gradual integration. One of the first steps of this process was the signing of a treaty to set up a Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2007. Then, in 2010, the same countries launched a Common customs tariff and a common customs territory which entered into force along with the ECU customs code. This subsequently lead to the removal of physical border controls between these countries in 2011. However Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan had plans to expand the structure of the ECU to allow for further economic integration in a single economic space supported by an economic union. The idea for creating the EEU was embraced by Russia as being a priority.
On the 18th of November 2011, the three presidents Vladimir Putin from Russia, Nursultan Nazarbayev from Kazakhstan and Alexander Lukashenko from Belarus gathered to sign a treaty to launch a Eurasian Economic Union based on the European Union by 2015. The treaty prepared the countries for further integration and established the Eurasian Commission and the Eurasian Economic Space which began functioning in 2012. In May 2014 the same three presidents signed a treaty to officially establish the EEU in 2015 and committed to guaranteeing the “free movement of goods, services, capital and work force”, as well as coordinating economic policies in key sectors such as agriculture, energy, transport and industry.
The same year, two other former Soviet countries agreed to join the Union after succumbing to Russian pressure. On the 10th of October 2014 Armenia signed an official treaty to join the EEU and became a member on the second of January 2015. Kyrgyzstan also signed an agreement on the 23rd of December to join and hopes to become an official member by May 2015. Only will time will tell if this decision will bear positive economic fruits for these countries.
However EEU members are already showing signs of disagreements. In 2014, Russia halted the import of certain Belarussian products so that Belarus would be prevented from reselling EU products in Russia due to the economic sanctions imposed on it by the West over the Ukrainian Crisis. The movement of Belarussian food to Kazakhstan was also halted from passing through Russian territory out of the same fear. The president of Kazakhstan claimed that the sanctions imposed by the West are not only affecting Russia but straining the relations between it and EEU members.
Despite its official founding this year, the EEU still clearly has a long way to go before consolidation. Although the initial signs of economic integration between the three founding members were generally positive, the recent disputes between members has highlighted the vulnerability of the fledgling union. For the two most recent members, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, these signs can hardly be encouraging and it is yet to be seen what effect joining the EEU will have on their economies.
*Cover image ‘Санкт-Петербург, Константиновский дворец‘ by Karim Massimov